Sept. 23, 2013
The Biggest 'Minimalist' Decision I'll Ever Make (I have a Huge Confession...)
I have a confession: I've been struggling.
My struggles have mostly been internal, but today I'm sharing my personal turmoil with you because it was my minimalism that helped me decide what to do.
* * * * * * * * * *
Happy Herbivore happened to me. Don't get me wrong, I'm not ungrateful. I don't have any regrets, but when I got the wild idea to start a blog because... well, I was bored and needed an outlet, I had no idea where it would take me.
I never could have imagined all this, and most days I still pinch myself wondering if it's all been a dream.
It's been 6 years and I still can't believe it.
I'm not sure I ever will.
Because I never had a plan or grand vision, so much of my journey with Happy Herbivore has been rolling with the punches... seeing where the tide will take me.
A lot of mistakes.
Happy Herbivore has changed me as a person, too.
There's been more than my fair share of trial and error and "learning the hard way."
For those of you who've watched my free video series through Exit Strategy School, you know most of this story:
For years, I wanted Happy Herbivore to be my job because I loved it so.
I dreamed. I dreamed. I dreamed.
But I was missing a main ingredient: having the business, entrepreneur mind.
I never created that business plan I sorely needed, or stopped to ask myself how I was going to make my dream happen. How I was going to make money. I just kept expecting it to work itself out.
I kept waiting for a big break.
I kept going that extra mile. More work. Less sleep. More effort.
I was working harder but not smarter.
After writing my second book, EHH, a friend offered to come work for me — for free — if she could move in with us, thereby covering her living expenses. She'd recently graduated college and wasn't sure what she wanted to do or if she wanted to go to grad school. She loved the idea of working for Happy Herbivore.
I distinctly remember her saying, "we'll treat Happy Herbivore like a business until it becomes a business."
I loved the theory. It was certainly a step in the right direction, but it was going to be a huge financial stretch.
In addition to doing Happy Herbivore 40+ hours a week, I was also freelancing full-time to make ends meet.
Yet, I couldn't say no.
I was hopeful if she took some of the "Happy Herbivore hours" off my plate, I could freelance more to make the additional money we'd need. And besides, two heads were better than one, right? With the combined spirit and determination of us both, surely I could we make Happy Herbivore work? Turn it into our jobs?
So she moved in and we worked like mad.
Two weeks later, my father-in-law came to visit and was curious about our "roommate" and this odd arrangement.
Then he said something that really stayed with me: "The difference between a business and a hobby is money" and I realized, I had a very time-consuming (and expensive!) hobby.
It was a hobby I loved, but a hobby nonetheless.
I still hadn't carved out a business plan. I still just dreamed a dream.
Then reality hit even harder when my friend was offered a real job with a real salary and real benefits a few weeks later.
She had to take it. I couldn't ask her not to.
Initially, I tried to maintain the status quo by myself, but quickly found it too exhausting to update the blog 3x a day, especially while working full-time!
Then I faced an even uglier truth: my pal's help hadn't brought me any closer to my dream. I was freelancing like crazy to make enough money so she could work at Happy Herbivore.
There were so many things wrong with that picture.
And sure, it had only been a few weeks, but even if she had stayed, I couldn't see how it would have made a difference. (*I think this is a trap a lot of people (and especially bloggers) fall into chasing their passion. (I talk a lot about this in the free training videos for Exit Strategy School). We focus too much on growth and growing bigger without realizing growth does not always equal profit. Indeed, bigger is not always better.) It didn't matter that I'd doubled my readership, Happy Herbivore was still not a business. I still had to work my freelance job to support myself and support my hobby. Clearly, I needed a business plan!
A little while later, I launched the meal plans and my business was in place.
As that business grew little by little (thanks for all the support!), I was finally able to cut back on freelancing and eventually, Happy Herbivore (err... the meal plans) were my "job."
Then things got sticky again.
My publisher asked me to write my third book. By then, I knew what writing a book entailed. I couldn't do much else except write that book. (I'd had to quit freelancing both times before and live on credit cards).
Except this time I had a humble little business that was still just a fledgling. I couldn't just abandon it. Plus my customers (while only a few) were so wonderfully supportive and enthusiastic.
What was I going to do?
My sister came to my rescue. Offering to come work for me.
I couldn't pay her much beyond what she was paying in rent, but she vowed to make it work and she did.
Courtney worked hard — 12+ hour days — running the show and helping me while I wrote Happy Herbivore Abroad. I will be in debt to her for the rest of my life.
With her help, Happy Herbivore and the meal plans continued to blossom.
Eventually though, all good things come to an end, and Courtney's time with me was up when she found her ultimate dream job six months later.
I choked back the tears but I understood. I couldn't have competed, even if I wanted to. I still can't complete...
When Courtney left, Happy Herbivore had indeed become a business. As a newly minted business owner (I'd incorporated Happy Herbivore — so legit!), I was eager to keep my business growing.
I also realized in the wake of Courtney's absence, that I couldn't do it all alone anymore.
Scott (my husband), who had always been a part-time volunteer, offered to step in and work full-time.
Business just kept on booming (knock on wood!) and I developed that eager hunger in my belly to grow my business more. (Especially now that it was both mine and Scott's livelihood).
Besides, what business owner doesn't want their business to grow?
I dreamed a new dream.
Before long, I had assembled a small, but mighty team. I had a full-time executive assistant, a part-time copy editor, two contract designers, a social media manager (volunteer), Scott doing the techy stuff, and so on and so on.
I loved and cherished my teammates, all of whom believed in growing Happy Herbivore as much as I did. They worked hard and with devoted passion, often kicking in hours for free or giving me discounts when they could (I'm eternally grateful and still can't say THANK YOU! THANK YOU! enough).
Yet despite all the pomp and circumstance, something just bothered me.
For one, as hard as they tried, they could never be me.
They could never quite replicate my voice in a blog post or a comment, and part of me also felt like it was too phony to let someone else answer "as me."
For this reason, except when I had to travel to Finland for two weeks on business, I never let anyone answer my email. I figured, if you emailed me, you wanted to hear from me. (During that Finland exception, everyone noted that they were someone else answering for me).
Sometimes my team helped out by answering questions on Facebook or Twitter, but that bugged me too... even though I knew I couldn't do it all. Not at the speed and capacity we'd been operating at...
Yet I kept pushing my uneasiness aside in hopes to take Happy Herbivore to still greater heights.
More blog posts. More Facebook updates — whatever it took.
I told myself that it was all okay. Every other page/blog/company/etc. out that as big as mine (or bigger) had people doing stuff for them...
We became a wild and crazy, never-stopping-to-smell-the-roses, production.
And it was paying off.
We were growing.
Yet I wasn't as happy as I expected to be.
I had a lot of grief.
A lot of grief.
My therapist (for my OCD) kept telling me that all change was grief.
I kept telling him it was more than that.
I had grief about letting Happy Herbivore go.
Even my publisher tried to push new authors and new titles under my Happy Herbivore umbrella, making it a "brand," which would have been so lucrative, but I just couldn't deal with it.
I couldn't let her grow beyond me.
I wasn't ready. Maybe I was selfish.
"No! I don't want to!"
Friends and family who knew of my struggles told me it was all part of the process.
The circle of business life. That growth is good and I can grow with it.
But the more Happy Herbivore grew up, the more I wanted to shrink her back down.
"You're growing up too fast!" I'd yell.
"I'm not ready yet!"
I felt like a big, stinky, party pooper.
Eventually, though, I came to an impasse with my business.
I stared down the ultimatum that was my reality.
I had to let her grow and grow without me, or I had to scale it all back and stay small.
I struggled for months with the decision, until finally, my minimalism came to light.
Less is more.
I decided if I had to do less, I had to do less. I'd rather be genuine. Honest. Me.
I wanted to keep Happy Herbivore as mine. Personal. Small. Intimate. Well loved. Well worn.
If that meant I had to write less blog posts, so be it. I'd only write ones I was really moved to write. No more writing (or assigning) posts just to churn out more content.
And if that meant I would go long periods without tweeting... okay.
If I stopped updating Facebook every few hours.... alright.
If I slept in until 7am... my business would not burn to the ground. (I hope!)
What was I trying to prove anyway?
I had felt for so long that if I took even five minutes to catch my breath... if I took even the tiniest of breaks... everything that I had worked so hard to build... everything we'd all worked so hard to build... would crumble.
That it would be lost.
That if I didn't keep out doing myself, I'd beat myself down.
That is one exhausting business model.
And hopefully a rather inaccurate one!
I started scaling back. Or well, I'm just starting to.
I had to. I was going crazy. (I feel crazy).
Instead of pulling the plug and sobbing in the dark, I came to accept my own beautiful reality: I don't have the chops to be the next Rachel Ray or Bethenny Frankel or Martha Stewart. (And maybe that's a good thing).
I was already so lucky, so fortunate, so happy, and so proud of what I'd accomplished. If this was as far as I was going to go, than baby, you're alright!
Success is how I choose to define it.
We live in a world that screams "bigger is better," but if minimalism has taught me anything, it's taught me that THAT is not always the case.
I'm reminded now, more than ever, of that saying I say so often Minimalist Monday, which is that we have to rage against the consumer mentality that "bigger is better, and whatever we have is not enough" because that IS a prescription for unhappiness. As I became all too aware.
Because I had my possessions in check, I thought I'd beaten consumerism.
I lost my way.
I got excited and dizzy and spun off into a direction I wasn't happy about.
Bigger is not always better.
Less is more.
Looking back, this was the hardest, most painful decision I've ever made.
And I couldn't have made it without my minimalism.
It all became clear to me what I needed (and wanted) to do when I went back to my mission statement — my starting point — my dream of a dream.
(P.S. Exit Strategy School students, big lesson on the important of a mission statement coming up!)
Less work. More happiness.
That's why I started this journey...
Finally, I have to close with this quote from Steve Jobs, as his words, many of his words, have always been a source of comfort for me....
("When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: 'If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right.' It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: 'If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?' And whenever the answer has been 'No' for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.")
I want to spend more time in the kitchen and less time in meetings. I want to spend more time helping people get healthy and less time worrying about payroll.
I want to go back to that girl who had a dream. I dreamed a dream.